Canon AE-1 35mm film camera

There are a lot of cameras out there, too many at this point, but there are few cameras that have the same notoriety as the Canon AE-1.

History

Released in 1976, the Canon AE-1 was the first camera produced that was controlled entirely by electronics. Canon also made use of new mass production techniques and plastics to help keep weight and costs down, all of which added up to a very popular camera. The AE-1 enjoyed a successful but somewhat short life as it was replaced by the AE-1 Program in 1981 which included the same program modes as the A-1.

Even though it was extremely popular the AE-1 was not a professional level camera and it’s plastic and electronics were prone to failure and in some cases it was cheaper to replace the ailing body than to have it fixed. Besides the Program mode, the best upgrade that Canon made was to change how the battery door operated. It was easy to break, so much so that there are third party doors available to replace your broken AE-1. This change also added a hand grip to the camera making it much more comfortable to hold; a feature that many other camera manufacturers adopted to their own systems.

The Design of the AE-1

The Canon AE-1 is a well thought out, fairly attractive camera that has a bright finder, decent ergonomics and is lighter than the Canon A-1 or F-1. Although, to be honest it doesn’t really feel significantly lighter. The camera has heft to it, unlike the Mamiya 35mm cameras like the ZM or ZE, the AE-1 doesn’t feel cheap. But it is definitely a child of the 80’s. I know, it’s not really about looks. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to buy or use a camera based on the design, but it matters, and the AE-1 looks its age.

The button operation is also not great if you are trying to use the stop down metering, I find the DoF preview switch a little difficult since it’s more of slide than a button. The rest of the controls are well designed however. The lock on the shutter release is easy to flip on without looking. Adjusting the ISO is a bit cumbersome though, but only because of the plastic guard that extends around the back of the dial, presumably to make it harder to accidentally change it or the shutter speed, but I find it frustrating – but happily you don’t really need to change the ISO on the fly.

Matte/Grid Screen

Another feature, which is really nice, of the AE-1 Program is the ability to remove and change the focusing screen. There are 6 screens made for it, and I just about always go for the grid screen, in this case, the “D” screen.

Operation

The prism on the Canon AE-1/Program is big and bright though. It’s brighter than many contemporary cameras and larger too – which makes it an absolute dream to makes pictures with. It’s the same split-image focus process that you’re used to but the finder shows 94% of the image with a .83x magnification with a 50mm lens.

Focusing screen/view

Shooting the AE-1 in AE mode is pretty simple. You make sure the the lens is set to “A” and not “M” and you’re ready to go. All you have to do is adjust the shutter speed and take pictures. The meter is easy to read, and in AE mode you need to make sure the need is in the center of the scale on the right side of the finder. But for all of this to work as designed, you have to use the new FD lenses (all black) not the older ones, that requires some finger gymnastics and pretty much makes the camera an all manual camera with a meter.

For its age, the metering of the AE-1is pretty accurate. I tend to overexpose by a little by default so having an exposure compensation dial on this camera would make it a heck of a lot more attractive.

Lenses

The Canon AE-1 made use of the Canon FD bayonet mount which allowed for this new electronic camera use all of the same professional quality lenses that it’s big brothers like the A-1 and F-1 use. It is compatible with both the old and new FD lenses, however using the older lenses requires stop-down metering.

Here’s an easy tip: the older FD mount lenses have a chrome lock ring and the new ones are all black. Look at the two lenses in this picture to see the difference.

The AE-1 came with either a 50mm f/1.8 SC or a 50mm f/1.4 SSC lens just like about every other camera on the market. With the introduction of the F-1 in 1971 came the new FD bayonet mount lenses which were fully capable of communicating with the camera in manual and automatic modes which can be controlled by setting the aperture ring to either a green circle or green A depending opt age of the lens. These lenses quickly became the standard for Canon cameras until the release of auto-focus cameras when the mount switched. This is a detail that has always seemed like a bad business decision by Canon. Unlike Nikon cameras which up until just a few years ago could all make use of all of the older lenses made since the release of the Nikon F.

Unless you’re looking to save a few bucks, I would stay away from the old FD lenses. Sure they might be less expensive, but you’ll be stuck having to do stop-down metering and using the camera in manual mode. They are still solid lenses with excellent sharpness, but unless you are okay with not having the best feature of the AE-1, stick to the new glass.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Besides squealing shutters or squeaky film advance mechanisms the Canon AE-1 is a decent camera packed with a lot of features making it a good choice, even today, for those looking to get into film photography and don’t want to spend a lot of money. Along with the built-in TTL auto-exposure the AE-1 can be operated in manual mode and allows user override the light meter and control the exposure.

I’m not a huge fan of this camera even given all of it’s popularity and features; and no, it’s not because I prefer Nikon. The AE-1 and subsequent AE-1 Program have always felt a little cheap to me. The amount of plastic used in the camera is one reason, the other is that I see a lot of these cameras, and nearly all of them have some issue. Yeah, I get it, it’s almost as old as I am, but they are not at all the same quality as the A-1 or F-1. The cameras chirp intermittently, or on every exposure, the battery door breaks off or even better the mirror’s coating in the prism starts to separate leaving part of the viewfinder totally useless.

If you are going to go for an Canon AE-1, I would definitely go after the newer AE-1 Program. It has more features, is a better camera, and if it does break there are more of them floating around the photo-verse than the standard AE-1. The only bummer is that you’re going to pay for it these days as the average price is about $200 on Ebay.

Note* I'm only listing the new FD lenses below. There are probably 100 lenses or more available for FD and FL mount cameras. The list here is just for ones that make full use of the AE-1's electronic features.


General

Canon AE-1
Type : SLR – Single Lens Reflex
Lens Mount : FD and FL mount
Operation :
Electronic
Format :
35mm
Shutter :
Focal plane
Shutter Speeds :
B, * 2s – 1/1000s
Shutter Remote : Mechanical
ISO Range : 25 – 3200
Shutter Lock : Yes
Self Timer : 10 seconds
Mirror Lock-up : No
DoF preview : Yes
Flash:
TTL
Flash Mount :
Hot shoe
Flash Sync : x – 1/30s, m – 1/60s
Multiple Exposure : Yes
Strap Lugs :
Yes
Battery : 4LR44 6V
Production :
1976 – 1984
Weight :
798g (with 50mm f/1.7)

Download the Canon AE-1 manual

Accessories

Standard EF Eyecup
Magnifier S
Diopters : +3 to -4 available
Data Back A
Power Winder A (the newer Power Winder A2 can be used as well.)
Speedlight Flashes : 011A, 155A, 166A, 177A, 188A, 199A, 533G and 577G depending on output needs.
Lens hoods in various sizes for the FD lenses
1.4x Teleconverter
2x Teleconverter (A & B models)
Close-up Bellows

There are a large number of other accessories that Canon has produced that are more universal in nature as well. Close-up filters, filters, and straps.


Canon FD Prime Lens Details

7.5mm Fisheye f/5.6
Angle of view : 180 °
Elements : 11 in 8 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : n/a

14mm Fisheye f/2.8L
Angle of view :114 °
Elements : 14 in 10 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : n/a

15mm Fisheye f/2.8
Angle of view : 180 °
Elements : 10 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : n/a

17mm f/4
Angle of view : 104 °
Elements : 11 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/22
Filter size : 72mm

20mm f/2.8
Angle of view : 94 °
Elements : 10 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 72mm

24mm f/1.4L
Angle of view : 84 °
Elements : 10 in 8 groups
Aperture range : f/1.4 – f/16
Filter size : 72mm

24mm f/2.8
Angle of view : 84 °
Elements : 10 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

28mm f/2
Angle of view : 75 °
Elements : 7 in 7 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

35mm f/2
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 10 in 8 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

35mm f/2.8
Angle of view : 63 °
Elements : 6 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

50mm f/1.2
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 7 in 6 groups
Aperture range : f/1.2 – f/16
Filter size : 52mm

50mm f/1.2L
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 8 in 6 groups
Aperture range : f/1.2 – f/16
Filter size : 52mm

50mm f/1.4
Angle of view : 46°
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.4 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

50mm f/1.8
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.8 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

50mm f/2
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/16
Filter size : 52mm

50mm f/3.5 Macro
Angle of view : 46 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/32
Filter size : 52mm

85mm f/1.2L
Angle of view : 28 ° 30′
Elements : 8 in 6 groups
Aperture range : f/1.2 – f/16
Filter size : 72mm

85mm f/1.8
Angle of view : 28 ° 30′
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/1.8 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

100mm f/2
Angle of view : 24 °
Elements : 6 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/32
Filter size : 52mm

100mm f/2.8
Angle of view : 24 °
Elements : 5 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/32
Filter size : 52mm

100mm f/4 Macro
Angle of view : 24 °
Elements : 5 in 3 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/32
Filter size : 52mm

135mm f/2
Angle of view : 18 °
Elements : 6 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/2 – f/32
Filter size : 72mm

135mm f/2.8
Angle of view : 18 °
Elements : 6 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

135mm f/3.5
Angle of view : 18 °
Elements : 4 in 4 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/32
Filter size : 52mm

200mm f/1.8L
Angle of view : 12 °
Elements : 11 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/1.8 – f/22
Filter size : n/a

200mm f/2.8
Angle of view : 12 °
Elements : 5 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/32
Filter size : 72mm

200mm f/2.8
Angle of view : 12 °
Elements : 7 in 6 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/32
Filter size : 72mm

200mm f/4
Angle of view : 12 °
Elements : 7 in 6 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/32
Filter size : 52mm

200mm f/4 Macro
Angle of view : 12 °
Elements : 9 in 6 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/32
Filter size : 58mm

300mm f/2.8L
Angle of view : 8 ° 15′
Elements : 9 in 7 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/32
Filter size : 48mm

300mm f/4
Angle of view : 8 ° 15′
Elements : 6 in 6 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/32
Filter size : 34mm

300mm f/4L
Angle of view : 8 ° 15′
Elements : 7 in 7 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/32
Filter size : 34mm

300mm f/5.6
Angle of view : 8 ° 15′
Elements : 6 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/5.6 – f/32
Filter size : 58mm

400mm f/2.8L
Angle of view : 6 ° 10′
Elements : 10 in 8 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/32
Filter size : 48mm

400mm f/4.5
Angle of view : 6 ° 10′
Elements : 6 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/4.5 – f/32
Filter size : 34mm

500mm f/4.5L
Angle of view : 5 °
Elements : 7 in 6 groups
Aperture range : f/4.5 – f/32
Filter size : 48mm

500mm f/8 Reflex
Angle of view : 6 ° 10′
Elements : 6 in 3 groups
Aperture range : fixed
Filter size : 34mm

600mm f/4.5
Angle of view : 4 ° 10′
Elements : 6 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/4.5 – f/32
Filter size : 48mm

800mm f/5.6L
Angle of view : 3 ° 6′
Elements : 7 in 6 groups
Aperture range : f/5.6 – f/32
Filter size : 48mm

Canon FD Zoom Lens Details

20 – 35mm f/3.5L
Angle of view : 94 ° – 63 °
Elements : 11 in 11 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 72mm

24 – 35mm f/3.5L
Angle of view : 84 ° – 63 °
Elements : 12 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5- f/22
Filter size : 72mm

28 – 50mm f/3.5
Angle of view : 75 ° – 46 °
Elements : 10 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 58mm

28 – 55mm f/3.5 – 4.5
Angle of view : 75 ° – 43 °
Elements : 10 in 10 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

28 – 85mm f/4
Angle of view : 75 ° – 28 ° 30′
Elements : 13 in 11 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/22
Filter size : 72mm

35 – 70mm f/2.8 – 3.5
Angle of view : 63 ° – 34 °
Elements : 10 in 10 groups
Aperture range : f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size : 58mm

35 – 70mm f/3.5 – 4.5
Angle of view : 63 ° – 34 °
Elements : 9 in 8 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

35 – 70mm f/4
Angle of view : 63 °- 34 °
Elements : 8 in 8 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/22
Filter size : 52mm

35 – 105mm f/3.5
Angle of view : 3°- 23° 20′
Elements : 15 in 13 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 72mm

35 – 105mm f/3.5 – 4.5
Angle of view : 63°- 23° 30′
Elements : 14 in 11 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/22
Filter size : 58mm

50 – 135mm f/3.5
Angle of view : 46°- 18°
Elements : 16 in 12 groups
Aperture range : f/3.5 – f/32
Filter size : 58mm

50 – 300mm f/4.5L
Angle of view : 46°- 8° 15′
Elements : 16 in 13 groups
Aperture range : f/4.5 – f/32
Filter size : 34mm

70 – 150mm f/4.5
Angle of view : 34° – 16° 20′
Elements : 12 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/4.5 – f/32
Filter size : 52mm

70 – 210mm f/4
Angle of view : 34° – 11° 45′
Elements : 12 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/32
Filter size : 58mm

75 – 200mm f/4.5
Angle of view : 32° 11′ – 12°
Elements : 11 in 8 groups
Aperture range : f/4.5 – f/32
Filter size : 52mm

80 – 200mm f/4
Angle of view : 30° – 12°
Elements : 15 in 11 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/32
Filter size : 58mm

80 – 200mm f/4L
Angle of view : 30° – 12°
Elements : 14 in 12 groups
Aperture range : f/4 – f/32
Filter size : 58mm

85 – 300mm f/4.5
Angle of view : 28° 30′ – 8° 15′
Elements : 15 in 11 groups
Aperture range : f/4.5 – f/32
Filter size : IX

100 – 200mm f/5.6
Angle of view : 24° – 12°
Elements : 8 in 5 groups
Aperture range : f/5.6 – f/32
Filter size : 52mm

100 – 300mm f/5.6
Angle of view : 24° – 8° 15′
Elements :14 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/5.6 – f/32
Filter size : 58mm

100 – 300mm f/5.6
Angle of view : 24° – 8° 15′
Elements : 15 in 9 groups
Aperture range : f/5.6 – f/32
Filter size : 58mm

100 – 300mm f/5.6
Angle of view : 24° – 8° 15′
Elements : 15 in 10 groups
Aperture range : f/5.6 – f/32
Filter size : 58mm

150 – 600mm f/5.6
Angle of view : 16° 20′ – 4° 10′
Elements : 19 in 15 groups
Aperture range : f/5.6 – f/32
Filter size : 34mm

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